Thomas shouted, "Freeze!" He was sweating, and nauseous, but he made no move to banish the unnecessary symptoms. He wanted catharsis, didn"t he? Wasn"t that the whole point? The subtitles gave only a crude hint of what the clone was experiencing. Much greater clarity was available; the recording included traces from key neural pathways. If he wanted to, he could read the clone"s mind.
He said, "Let me know what he"s thinking, what he"s going through." Nothing happened. He clenched his fists and whispered, "Restart."
The library vanished; he was flat on his back in the hospital bed, staring up at the ceiling, dazed. He looked down and saw the cluster of monitors beside him, the wires on his chest. The motion of his eyes and head was wrong-intelligible, but distressingly out of synch with his intentions. He felt fearful and disoriented-but he wasn"t sure how much of that was his own reaction and how much belonged to the clone. Thomas shook his own head in panic, and the library-and his body-returned.
He stopped the playback, and reconsidered.
He could break free any time he wanted to. He was only an observer. There was nothing to fear.
Fighting down a sense of suffocation, he closed his eyes and surrendered to the recording.
+ + +
He looked around the room groggily. He wasn"t the Copy-that much was certain. And this wasn"t any part of the Landau Clinic; as a VIP shareholder and future client, he"d toured the building too many times to be wrong about that. If the scan had been postponed for some reason, he ought to be back home-or on his way. Unless something had gone wrong requiring medical attention which the Landau was unable to provide?
The room was deserted, and the door was closed. He called out hoarsely, "Nurse!" He was too weak to shout.
The room controller replied, "No staff are available to attend to you, at present. Can I be of assistance?"
"Can you tell me where I am?"
"You"re in Room 307 of Valhalla."
"Valhalla?" He knew he"d done business with the place, but he couldn"t remember why.
The room controller said helpfully, "Valhalla is the Health Dynamics Corporation of America"s Frankfurt Hospice."
His bowels loosened with fright; they were already empty. [Thomas squirmed in sympathy, but kept himself from breaking free.] Valhalla was the meat-rack he"d hired to take care of his comatose body until it expired, after the scan-with the legal minimum of medical attention, with no heroic measures to prolong life.
He had been scanned-but they"d fucked up.
They"d let him wake.
It was a shock, but he came to terms with it rapidly. There was no reason to panic. He"d be out of here and scanned again in six hours flat-and whoever was responsible would be out on the street even faster. He tried to raise himself into a sitting position, but he was too dizzy from the lingering effects of the drug infusion to coordinate the action. He slumped back onto the pillows, caught his breath, and forced himself to speak calmly.
"I want to talk to the director."
"I"m sorry, the director is not available."
"Then, the most senior member of staff you can find."
"No staff are available to attend to you, at present."
Sweat trickled into his eyes. There was no point screaming about lawsuits to this machine. In fact... it might be prudent not to scream about lawsuits to anyone. A place like this would be perfectly capable of responding by simply drugging him back into a coma.
What he needed to do was let someone outside know about the situation.
He said, "I"d like to make a phone call. Can you connect me to the net?"
"I have no authority to do that."
"I can give you an account number linked to my voiceprint, and authorize you to charge me for the service."
"I have no authority to accept your account number."
"Then... make a call, reversing all charges, to Rudolf Dieterle, of Dieterle, Hollingworth and Partners."
"I have no authority to make such a call."
He laughed, disbelieving. "Are you physically capable of connecting me to the net at all?"
"I have no authority to disclose my technical specifications."
Any insult would have been a waste of breath. He lifted his head and surveyed the room. There was no furniture; no drawers, no table, no visitor"s chair. Just the monitors to one side of his bed, mounted on stainless steel trolleys. And no terminal, no communications equipment of any kind-not even a wall-mounted audio handset.
He probed the needle in his forearm, just below the inside of the elbow. A tight, seamless rubber sleeve, several centimeters wide, covered the entry point; it seemed to take forever to get his fingernails under the edge-and once he"d succeeded, it was no help. The sleeve was too tight to be dragged down his arm, and too elastic to be rolled up like a shirt sleeve. How did anyone, ever, take the thing off? He tugged at the drip tube itself; held in place by the sleeve, it showed no sign of yielding. The other end vanished inside the drug pump.
[Thomas began to wonder if the immovable needle, on top of the Kafkaesque room controller, would make the clone suspicious-but it seemed that the possibility of some future self waking the scan file a second time was too convoluted an explanation to occur to him in the middle of a crisis like this.]
He"d have to take the pump with him. That was a nuisance-but if he was going to march through the building wrapped in a sheet, looking for a terminal, it could hardly make him more conspicuous than he would have been anyway.
He started to peel the electrodes from his chest when a pulse of numbing warmth swept through his right arm. The pump beeped twice; he turned to see a green LED glowing brightly in the middle of the box, a light he hadn"t noticed before.
The wave of paralysis spread out from his shoulder before he could react-crimp the tube? He tried to roll himself out of the bed but if his body responded at all, he couldn"t feel it.
His eyes fluttered closed. He struggled to remain conscious-and succeeded. [The script guaranteed the clone several minutes of lucidity-which had nothing to do with the opiate"s true pharmacological effects.]
There"d be a computer log of his EEG. Someone would be alerted, soon, to the fact that he"d been awake... and they"d understand that the only humane thing to do would be to revive him.
But someone should have been alerted the moment he woke.
It was far more likely that he"d be left to die.
[Thomas felt ill. This was sadistic, insane.
It was too late for squeamishness, though. Everything he was witnessing had already happened.]
His body was numb, but his mind was crystalline. Without the blur of visceral distractions, his fear seemed purer, sharper than anything he"d ever experienced.
He tried to dredge up the familiar, comforting truths: The Copy would survive, it would live his life for him. This body was always destined to perish; he"d accepted that long ago. Death was the irreversible dissolution of the personality; this wasn"t death, it was a shedding of skin. There was nothing to fear.
Unless he was wrong about death. Wrong about everything.
He lay paralyzed, in darkness. Wishing for sleep; terrified of sleep. Wishing for anything that might distract him; afraid of wasting his last precious minutes, afraid of not being prepared.
Prepared? What could that mean? Extinction required no preparation. He wasn"t making any deathbed pleas to a God he"d stopped believing in at the age of twelve. He wasn"t about to cast aside seventy years of freedom and sanity, to return to his infantile faith. Approach the Kingdom of Heaven as a child, or you won"t get in? That very line was one which had helped him see through the crude mechanics of entrapment; the translation was all too obvious (even to a child): This bullshit would insult any adult"s intelligence-but swallow it anyway, or you"ll burn forever.
He was still afraid, though. The hooks had gone in deep.
The irony was, he had finally come to his senses and abandoned the whole insane idea of having himself woken, intentionally. To confront his mortality! To purge his Copy of guilt! What a pathetic fucking joke that would have been. And now the supposed beneficiary of the fatuous gesture would never even know that it had happened, anyway, by accident.
The blackness in his skull seemed to open out, an invisible view expanding into an invisible vista. Any sense of being in the hospice bed, merely numb and sightless, was gone now; he was lost on a plain of darkness.
What could he have told the Copy, anyway? The miserable truth? I"m dying in fear. I killed Anna for no reason but selfishness and cowardice-and now, in spite of everything, I"m still afraid that there might be an afterlife. A God. Judgement. I"ve regressed far enough to start wondering if every childish superstition I ever held might yet turn out to be true-but not far enough to embrace the possibility of repentance.
Or some anodyne lie? I"m dying in peace, I"ve found forgiveness, I"ve laid all my ghosts to rest. And you"re free, now, to live your own life. The sins of the father will not be visited upon the son.
Would that have worked, would that have helped? Some formula as inane as the voodoo of Confession, as glib as the dying words of some tortured soul finding Hollywood redemption?
He felt himself moving across the darkness. No tunnels of light; no light at all. Sedative dreams, not near-death hallucinations. Death was hours or days away; by then he"d surely be comatose again. One small mercy.
He waited. No revelations, no insights, no lightning bolts of blinding faith. Just blackness and uncertainty and fear.
+ + +
Thomas sat motionless in front of the terminal long after the recording had finished.
The clone had been right: the ritual had been pointless, misguided. He was and always would be the murderer; nothing could make him see himself as the innocent software child of the dead Thomas Riemann, unfairly burdened with the killer"s guilt. Not unless he redefined himself completely: edited his memories, rewrote his personality. Sculpted his mind into someone new.
In other words: died.
That was the choice. He had to live with what he was in its entirety, or create another person who"d inherit only part of what he"d been.
He laughed angrily and shook his head. "I"m not passing through the eye of any needle. I killed Anna. I killed Anna. That"s who I am." He reached for the scar which defined him, and stroked it as if it were a talisman.
He sat for a while longer, reliving the night in Hamburg one more time, weeping with shame at what he"d done.
Then he unlocked the drinks cabinet and proceeded to make himself confident and optimistic. The ritual had been pointless-but if nothing else, it had rid him of the delusion that it might have been otherwise.
Some time later, he thought about the clone. Drifting into narcosis. Suffering a crudely modeled extrapolation of the disease which had killed the original. And then, at the moment of simulated death, taking on a new body, young and healthy-with a face plucked from a photograph from Christmas, 1985.
Resurrection-for an instant. No more than a formality. The script had frozen the young murderer, without even waking him.
Thomas was too far gone to agonize about it. He"d done what he"d done for the sake of the ritual. He"d delivered the clone into Durham"s hands, to grant it-like the flesh-and-blood it believed itself to be-the remote chance of another life, in a world beyond death, unknowable.
And if the whole thing had been a mistake, there was no way, now, to undo it.
Maria woke from dreamless sleep, clearheaded, tranquil. She opened her eyes and looked around. The bed, the room, were unfamiliar; both were large and luxurious. Everything appeared unnaturally pristine, unsullied by human habitation, like an expensive hotel room. She was puzzled, but unperturbed; an explanation seemed to be on the verge of surfacing. She was wearing a nightdress she"d never seen before in her life.
She suddenly remembered the Landau Clinic. Chatting with the technicians. Borrowing the marker pen. The tour of the recovery rooms. The anesthetist asking her to count.
She pulled her hands out from beneath the sheet. Her left palm was blank; the comforting message she"d written there was gone. She felt the blood drain from her face.
Before she had a chance to think, Durham stepped into the room. For a moment, she was too shocked to make a sound-then she screamed at him, "What have you done to me? I"m the Copy, aren"t I? You"re running the Copy!" Trapped in the launch software, with two minutes to live?
Durham said quietly, "Yes, you"re the Copy."
"How? How did you do it? How could I let it happen?" She stared at him, desperate for a reply, enraged more than anything else by the thought that they might both vanish before she"d heard the explanation, before she understood how he"d broken through all of her elaborate safeguards. But Durham just stood by the doorway looking bemused and embarrassed-as if he"d anticipated a reaction like this, but couldn"t quite credit it now that it was happening.
Finally, she said, "This isn"t the launch, is it? This is later. You"re another version. You stole me, you"re running me later."
"I didn"t steal you." He hesitated, then added cautiously, "I think you know exactly where you are. And I agonized about waking you-but I had to do it. There"s too much going on here that you"ll want to see, want to be a part of; I couldn"t let you sleep through it all. That would have been unforgivable."
Maria disregarded everything he"d said. "You kept my scan file after the launch. You duplicated it, somehow."
"No. The only place your scan file data ever went was the Garden-of-Eden configuration. As agreed. And now you"re in Permutation City. In the TVC universe-now commonly known as Elysium. Running on nothing but its own laws."
Maria sat up in bed slowly, bringing her knees up to her chest, trying to accept the situation without panicking, without falling apart. Durham was insane, unpredictable. Dangerous. When was she going to get that into her skull? In the flesh, she could probably have broken his fucking neck if she had to, to defend herself-but if he controlled this environment, she was powerless: he could rape her, torture her, do anything at all. The very idea of him attacking her still seemed ludicrous-but she couldn"t rely on the way he"d treated her in the past to count for anything. He was a liar and a kidnapper. She didn"t know him at all.
Right now, though, he was being as civilized as ever; he seemed intent on keeping up the charade. She was afraid to test this veneer of hospitality-but she forced herself to say evenly, "I want to use a terminal."
Durham gestured at the space above the bed, and a terminal appeared. Maria"s heart sank; she realized that she"d been hanging on to the slender hope that she might have been human. And that was still possible. Durham himself had once been memory-wiped and fooled into thinking he was a Copy, when he was merely a visitor. Or at least he"d claimed that it had happened, in another world.
She tried half a dozen numbers, starting with Francesca"s, ending with Aden"s. The terminal declared them all invalid. She couldn"t bring herself to try her own. Durham watched in silence. He seemed to be caught between genuine sympathy and a kind of clinical fascination-as if an attempt to make a few phone calls cast doubt on her sanity; as if she was engaged in some bizarre, psychotic behavior worthy of the closest scrutiny: peering behind a mirror in search of the objects seen in the reflection; talking back to a television program... or making calls on a toy phone.
Maria pushed the floating machine away angrily; it moved easily, but came to a halt as soon as she took her hands off it. Patchwork VR and its physics-of-convenience seemed like the final insult.
She said, "Do you think I"m stupid? What does a dummy terminal prove?"
"Nothing. So why don"t you apply your own criteria?" He said, "Central computer," and the terminal flashed up an icon-studded menu, headed permutation city computing facility. "Not many people use this interface, these days; it"s the original version, designed before the launch. But it still plugs you into as much computing power as the latest co-personality links."
He showed Maria a text file. She recognized it immediately; it was a program she"d written herself, to solve a large, intentionally difficult, set of Diophantine equations. The output of this program was the key they"d agreed upon to unlock Durham"s access to the other Copies, "after" the launch.
He ran it. It spat out its results immediately: a screenful of numbers, the smallest of which was twenty digits long. On any real-world computer, it should have taken years.
Maria was unimpressed. "You could have frozen us while the program was running, making it seem like no time had passed. Or you could have generated the answers in advance." She gestured at the terminal. "I expect you"re faking all of this: you"re not talking to a genuine operating system, you"re not really running the program at all."
"Feel free to alter some parameters in the equations, and try again."
She did. The modified program "ran" just as quickly, churning out a new set of answers. She laughed sourly. "So what am I supposed to do now? Verify all this in my head? You could put any bullshit you liked on the screen; I wouldn"t know the difference. And if I wrote another program to check the results, you could fake its operation, too. You control this whole environment, don"t you? So I can"t trust anything. Whatever I do to try to test your claims, you can intervene and make it go your way. Is that why you wanted my scan file, all along? So you could lock me in here and bombard me with lies-finally "prove" all your mad ideas to someone?"
"You"re being paranoid now."
"Am I? You"re the expert."
She looked around the luxurious prison cell. Red velvet curtains stirred in a faint breeze. She slipped out of bed and crossed the room, ignoring Durham; the more she argued with him, the harder it was to be physically afraid of him. He"d chosen his form of torture, and he was sticking to it.
The window looked out on a forest of glistening towers-no doubt correctly rendered according to all the laws of optics, but still too slick to be real... like some nineteen twenties Expressionist film set. She"d seen the sketches; this was Permutation City-whatever hardware it was running on. She looked down. They were seventy or eighty stories up, the street was all but invisible, but just below the window, a dozen meters to the right, a walkway stretched across to an adjacent building, and she could see the puppet citizens, chatting together in twos and threes as they strode toward their imaginary destinations. All of this looked expensive-but slowdown could buy a lot of subjective computing power, if that was the trade-off you wanted to make. How much time had passed in the outside world? Years? Decades?
Had she managed to save Francesca?
Durham said, "You think I"ve kidnapped your scan file, and run this whole city, solely for the pleasure of deceiving you?"
"It"s the simplest explanation."
"It"s ludicrous, and you know it. I"m sorry; I know this must be painful for you. But I didn"t do it lightly. It"s been seven thousand years; I"ve had a lot of time to think it over."
She spun around to face him. "Stop lying to me!"
He threw his hands up, in a gesture of contrition-and impatience. "Maria... you are in the TVC universe. The launch worked, the dust hypothesis has been vindicated. It"s a fact, and you"d better come to terms with that, because you"re now part of a society which has been living with it for millennia.
"And I know I said I"d only wake you if Planet Lambert failed-if we needed you to work on the biosphere seed. All right, I"ve broken my word on that. But... it was the wrong promise to make. Planet Lambert hasn"t failed; it"s succeeded beyond your wildest dreams. How could I let you sleep through that?"
An interface window appeared in midair beside her, showing a half-lit blue-and-white world. "I don"t expect the continents will look familiar. We"ve given the Autoverse a lot of resources; seven thousand years, for most of us, has been about three billion for Planet Lambert."
Maria said flatly, "You"re wasting your time. Nothing you show me is going to change my mind." But she watched the planet, transfixed, as Durham moved the viewpoint closer.
They broke through the clouds near the east coast of a large, mountainous island, part of an archipelago straddling the equator. The bare surface rock of the peaks was the color of ochre; no mineral she"d included in the original design... but time, and geochemistry, could have thrown up something new. The vegetation, which covered almost every other scrap of land, right to the water line, came in shades of blue-green. As the viewpoint descended, and the textures resolved themselves, Maria saw only "grasses" and "shrubs"-nothing remotely like a terrestrial tree.
Durham zeroed in on a meadow not far from the coast-a few hundred meters back, according to the scale across the bottom of the image-and about what she would have guessed from cues in the landscape, unexpectedly validated. What looked at first like a cloud of wind-borne debris-seeds of some kind?-blowing above the grass resolved into a swarm of shiny black "insects." Durham froze the image, then zoomed in on one of the creatures.
It was no insect by the terrestrial definition; there were four legs, not six, and the body was clearly divided into five segments: the head; sections bearing the forelegs, wings, and hind legs; and the tail. Durham made hand movements and rotated the view. The head was blunt, not quite flat, with two large eyes-if they were eyes: shiny bluish disks, with no apparent structure. The rest of the head was coated in fine hairs, lined up in a complex, symmetrical pattern which reminded Maria of Maori facial tattoos. Sensors for vibration-or scent?
She said, "Very pretty, but you forgot the mouth."
"They put food into a cavity directly under the wings." He rotated the body to show her. "It adheres to those bristles, and gets dissolved by the enzymes they secrete. You"d think it would fall out, but it doesn"t-not until they"ve finished digesting it and absorbing nutrients, and then a protein on the bristles changes shape, switching off the adhesion. Their whole stomach is nothing but this sticky droplet hanging there, open to the air."
"You might have come up with something more plausible."
Durham laughed. "Exactly."
The single pair of wings were translucent brown, looking like they were made of a thin layer of the same stuff as the exoskeleton. The four legs each had a single joint, and terminated in feathery structures. The tail segment had brown-and-black markings like a bull"s-eye, but there was nothing at the center; a dark tube emerged from the bottom of the rim, narrowing to a needle-sharp point.
"The Lambertians have diploid chromosomes, but only one gender. Any two of them can inject DNA, one after the other, into certain kinds of plant cell; their genes take over the cell and turn it into a cross between a cyst and an egg. They usually choose a particular spot on the stems of certain species of shrub. I don"t know if you"d call it parasitism-or just nest-building on a molecular level. The plant nourishes the embryo, and survives the whole process in perfect health-and when the young hatch, they return the favor by scattering seeds. Their ancestors stole some of the control mechanisms from a plant virus, a billion years ago. There are a lot of genetic exchanges like that; the "kingdoms" are a lot more biochemically similar here than they were on Earth."
Maria turned away from the screen. The stupidest thing was, she kept wanting to ask questions, press him for details. She said, "What"s next? You zoom right in and show me the fine anatomical structure, the insect"s cells, the proteins, the atoms, the Autoverse cells-and that"s supposed to convince me that the whole planet is embedded in the Autoverse? You unfreeze this thing, let it fly around-and I"m meant to conclude that no real-world computer could ever run an organism so complex, modeled at such a deep level? As if I could personally verify that every flap of its wings corresponded to a valid sequence of a few trillion cellular automaton states. It"s no different than the equation results. It wouldn"t prove a thing."
Durham nodded slowly. "All right. What if I showed you some of the other species? Or the evolutionary history? The paleogenetic record? We have every mutation on file since the year zero. You want to sit down with that and see if it looks authentic?"
"No. I want a terminal that works. I want you to let me call my original. I want to talk to her-and between us, maybe we can decide what I"m going to do when I get out of this fucking madhouse and into my own JSN account."
Durham looked rattled-and for a moment she believed she might finally be getting through to him. But he said, "I woke you for a reason. We"re going to be making contact with the Lambertians soon. It might have been sooner-but there"ve been complications, political delays."
He"d lost her completely now. ""Contact with the Lambertians?" What"s that supposed to mean?"
He gestured at the motionless insect, backside and genitals still facing them. "This is not some species I picked at random. This is the pinnacle of Autoverse life. They"re conscious, self-aware, highly intelligent. They have almost no technology-but their nervous system is about ten times more complex than a human"s-and they can go far beyond that for some tasks, performing a kind of parallel computing in swarms. They have chemistry, physics, astronomy. They know there are thirty-two atoms-although they haven"t figured out the underlying cellular automaton rules yet. And they"re modeling the primordial cloud. These are sentient creatures, and they want to know where they came from."
Maria turned her hand in front of the screen, bringing the Lambertian"s head back into view. She was beginning to suspect that Durham actually believed every word he was saying-in which case, maybe he hadn"t, personally, contrived these aliens. Maybe some other version of him-the flesh-and-blood original?-was deceiving both of them. If that was the case, she was arguing with the wrong person-but what was she supposed to do instead? Start shouting pleas for freedom to the sky?
She said numbly, "Ten times more complex than a human brain?"
"Their neurons use conducting polymers to carry the signal, instead of membrane action potentials. The cells themselves are comparable in size to a human"s-but each axon and dendrite carries multiple signals." Durham moved the viewpoint behind the Lambertian"s eye, and showed her. A neuron in the optic nerve, under close examination, contained thousands of molecules like elaborately knotted ropes, running the whole length of the cell body. At the far end, each polymer was joined to a kind of vesicle, the narrow molecular cable dwarfed by the tiny pouch of cell membrane pinched off from the outside world. "There are almost three thousand distinct neurotransmitters; they"re all proteins, built from three sub-units, with fourteen possibilities for each sub-unit. A bit like human antibodies-the same trick for generating a wide spectrum of shapes. And they bind to their receptors just as selectively as an antibody to an antigen; every synapse is a three-thousand-channel biochemical switchboard, with no cross-talk. That"s the molecular basis of Lambertian thought." He added wryly, "Which is more than you and I possess: a molecular basis for anything. We still run the old patchwork models of the human body-expanded and modified according to taste, but still based on the same principles as John Vines"s first talking Copy. There"s a long-term project to give people the choice of being implemented on an atomic level... but quite apart from the political complications, even the enthusiasts keep finding more pressing things to do."
Durham moved the viewpoint out through the cell wall and turned it back to face the terminal end of the neuron. He changed the color scheme from atomic to molecular, to highlight the individual neurotransmitters with their own distinctive hues. Then he unfroze the image.
Several of the grey lipid-membrane vesicles twitched open, disgorging floods of brightly colored specks; tumbling past the viewpoint, they resolved into elaborate, irregular globules with a bewildering variety of forms. Durham swung the angle of view forward again, and headed for the far side of the synapse. Eventually, Maria could make out color-coded receptors embedded in the receiving neuron"s cell wall: long-chain molecules folded together into tight zig-zagged rings, with lumpy depressions on the exposed surface.
For several minutes, they watched thousands of mismatched neurotransmitters bounce off one receptor, until Durham became bored and pleaded with the software, "Show us a fit." The image blurred for a second, and then returned to the original speed as a correctly shaped molecule finally stumbled onto its target. It hit the receptor and locked into place; Durham plunged the viewpoint through the cell membrane in time to show the immersed tail section of the receptor changing its configuration in response. He said, "That will now catalyze the activation of a second messenger, which will feed energy into the appropriate polymer-unless there"s an inhibiting messenger already bound there, blocking access." He spoke to the software again; it took control of the viewpoint, and showed them each of the events he"d described.
Maria shook her head, bedazzled. "Tell me the truth-who orchestrated this? Three thousand neurotransmitters, three thousand receptors, three thousand second messengers? No doubt you can show me the individual structures of all of them-and no doubt they really would behave the way you claim they do. Even writing the software to fake this would have been an enormous job. Who did you commission? There can"t be many people who"d take it on."